“The true scarce commodity of the near future will be the human attention span” – Satya Nadella, Microsoft 

The modern workplace today is a stressful one, filled with disruptions. The average adult learner is already busy balancing home and work commitments, along with distractions from social media, all of which impact achieving their learning goals. Todays’ adult learners need a learning experience that fits into their busy lifestyles, that enriches and interests them, and enables them to learn in high disruption workspaces. 

There have been several studies focused on the effect of disruptions on performance, all of which proved that disruption affects us more than we realize. Noise disrupts the performance of visual recall tasks (Jones; LeCompte) and interruptions harm performance (Zilstra and Roe 1999). In fact, a study conducted by Demarco and Lister in 1999 concluded that it can take up to 15 minutes for a person to regain concentration and focus on a task after an interruption. 

Add to that the fact that social media has shortened our attention spans. In a paper called, “An introduction to medical teaching” in 2014, William Jefferies and Kathryn Huggett state that our attention span wanes considerably after 15 minutes. Microsoft have famously concluded that someone will “switch off” if not interested after 8 – 12 seconds.

For learning to be effective it must take into account these factors, and deliver material in short, impactful segments, capturing learner’s attention quickly. How best to do this?

1. Understand learners: Malcom Knowles, the father of modern adult learning, stated that a key principle of adult learning is to appreciate that adults already have work and life experience, and learning should acknowledge and build on their existing experience. Vygotsky (1997) champions the theory that learning is a process of just “constructing” new knowledge on what you already know. Learning must be relevant and focus on issues that relate to the learner’s work or home life. 

2. Content that resonates: We all learn differently, but what is clear is the power of impactful content. Dale (1969) conducted an interesting study in which he tested different types of content types against recall. There were significant differences in recall between a spoken lecture, and a lecture guided by visuals – After 3 days, subjects could only recall a maximum of 20% of the spoken content, but over 70% of the visual content. This is not surprising: 3M in 2001 found that the brain processes visual cues 60 000 times faster than text, while Thorpe, S., Fize, D. & Marlot, C.1996 estimated that it only takes our brains 1/4 of a second to recognise an icon or image. Compare this to the fact that it takes on average 6 seconds to read 20 words.

3. On demand and available: A recent report from Axonify shows that organisations that allow their employees to train on mobile devices saw a training frequency improvement of over 40%. What’s more, an average of 3 hours,15 minutes is spent on our mobile phones everyday (Via Rescue Time), it makes sense that learning should be delivered on our most favoured device and format, on demand when we want it.

4. Content Capsules: Adult learning should be delivered in short, relevant, high-energy and mobile-first learning pieces, that deliver a single meaningful outcome with each interaction. This method must combine gamification elements, challenges and interactions to enrich the user experience, and a state-of-the-art communications plan to remind, inspire and reward all learners.

“It’s time for training programmes that add real value to organisations and their employees”, says Gareth Fletcher, Product Director of G&G ADVC. 

“We believe that through strategic design and implementation of initiatives that work with the needs and preferences of learners, while utilizing modern communication and digital innovations, organizations can create high-quality human capital that will improve their productivity and competitive capability”

“Our entire approach is based on providing the best possible user experience for every member of our learning programmes, and that means developing a true understanding of what their needs and requirements for learning are”